Joan Gomez’s “El Arbol Rojo” (“The Red Tree”) is playing at Ventana Sur’s Films in Progress as it approaches the finish line of a years-long, international marathon of labs, markets and festivals which have gone a long way to establishing the film as one of the Argentine market’s most talked about in-progress titles.
As a project, “The Red Tree” was awarded at the Screening Laboratory Selection of Oaxaca- Mexico and participated at the Intl. Festival of New Latin American Cinema in Havana, Cuba, in the unpublished script contest as well as the Writing Fund of the International Film Festival of Amiens-France. In development phase, it participated at the Intl. Meeting of Producers at Colombia’s Cartagena Intl. Film Festival, the Producers Workshop at Cannes’ Marché du Film, received Ibermedia backing and was selected to pitch at Sørfond Pitching Forum in Oslo.
In the film, Eliécer is a retired musician living on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, left to care for Esperanza, a half-sister he’s never met, after their father passes away. His mission is to get her to Bogota to find the girl’s mother. Along the way they cross paths with Toño, an aspiring boxer on his way to the Colombian capital as well.
Gómez’s Big Sur Películas produces along with Mass Media Communications, In Vivo Films and Viso Producciónes. The film doesn’t have sales or distribution lined up yet, but Gómez is confident that Ventana Sur is the right place to find them.
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The filmmaker talked with Variety ahead of Ventana Sur.
This film really explores the boundaries between worlds. Costal Colombia and Bogota are contrasted, while a lonely little girl and a single older man who know little to nothing about one another are put face-to-face. Could you talk a bit about how you worked to find middle ground between such different places and characters?
From the writing of the script, we considered a film that, although being set on the road, was not characterized by the spaces or the landscapes. We thought the narrative should revolve around the characters and conflicts that start from the very beginning of the film. In realizing these ideas, we sought to maintain that balance between the postcard of the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colombian geography, and a history of characters and faces that were part of that trip. The important things were always the interpersonal relationships, the country as it is seen by its people, its conflicts, its solidarity and above all the human condition.
This film is carried by some strong acting performances. Did you use professional or amateur actors, and was the decision intentional?
The film was shot with a mix of amateur and professional actors, and that was intentional. From the beginning, I wanted the characters to be embodied by real faces, accents and ways of speaking, from the various regions that the road trip crosses in the film. Then, we have a small group of professional actors (including our protagonist Eliecer), a group of amateur actors with some experience in theater in their regions, and a small group of “natural actors” who had no acting experience.
Where did the idea for this story come from? And can you talk about the writing and development processes?
This story stems from a marked interest in my work and in my previous short films in seeking an intimate view of family relationships, and especially in the wounds these relationships suffer when they have been broken by the decisions of parents. Iván Sierra co-wrote the script with me and helped find the character of Eliecer, a retired piper who whistles the melody that the birds sing from the yard of his house. Immediately we were interested in this man’s past, his musical heritage, his father, the reason for his retirement, his flute and the meaning of that song hummed in unison with the birds. Esperanza arrived later in the writing process. Argentine Juan Pablo Young advised on the final draft of the script.
When do you think the film will be ready, and do you have a premiere planned?
We just won the Colombian Film Fund for post-production and the “WIP” award from the Florianopolis Audiovisual Mercosur in Brazil. Right now, we are working on the final cut of the film and will finish everything between January and April 2020. We have a plan to release commercially in Colombia in the second half of 2020, and as for the international premiere we are in talks with selectors and in the process of applying to the different festivals. For this process, the selection to the Films in Progress section of the San Sebastian Festival, and now Films in Progress at Ventana Sur have been key.
You studied and worked in Barcelona but went back to Colombia for this film. Did you always hope to work in Colombia again? And do you see yourself returning to Spain in the future?
Originally it was the academic aspect that led me to study and shoot in Barcelona. For now, I don’t plan to go back to shoot there, but if an opportunity presented itself, I would love to. On the other hand, the stories that I am born to tell through cinema are deeply rooted and strongly inspired by my country. They are strongly influenced by my experiences, our people, and our conflicts. Right now, citizens are on the streets demanding that the government comply with peace agreements, and that policies are created to close the gap of historical social inequality in my country, among other things. Facing this situation, I can only think of staying here, and that I have a responsibility to show and tell our stories through cinema.
And what’s next?
There are two projects I have in mind. The first focuses on teachers in Colombian state schools. Their career requires enormous dedication, and it ends up infringing on their personal and family lives much more than we believe. The second addresses contradictions within the Colombian justice system. This story would be told by a character who has been the victim of a judicial and military apparatus which, after every violent act, always assigns guilt to someone, even if that means accusing innocent people in order to prove the efficiency and strength of the state.